Once you have the idea for your novel, take some time to develop it into a one or two line summary or maybe a story goal. For e.g., it might be something like: “A London based artist plans to avenge the death of her sister, who dies under mysterious circumstances.”
From here you brainstorm different ideas as it comes to you. Your idea maybe in the form of an image who may also be the main protagonist of the novel. For the purpose of our article, let’s visualise the image as that of a female who is an artist and in her early twenties. You can give her a name, say, Nina Michaels. You can describe her personality – maybe she is quiet and reserved, and you write that down. Then next you can write about how feels, meaning her emotional state at that point of time. Her emotions could be running high as she is vastly devastated by her sister’s death, and also agonised because her death has not been resolved in a correct manner by the police. Then from here you can jot down ideas about the sister who has passed away. Give her a name, say, Maya Michaels. You can mention her profession which could be that of an upcoming model in a reputed fashion house. Then you can roughly jot down ideas about the suspects here. It could be her ex-boyfriend or her colleague. You may jot down the consequences that might have taken place, for example, the police closed down her file as a suicide case. The reasons you can jot down roughly as because the victim was going through a depressive phase at being jilted by her boyfriend. And also one more reason you can mention, such as, she had been found to take prescribed drugs. So you allow the free flowing of ideas and randomly jot them down as they come to you. You can have a rough sketch of your ideas in clusters or in a Venn diagram, however it suits your creativity and sense of organisation.
Once this is done you can use these ideas to write different events or situations you visualise happening in the story. This may be as long as ten to fifteen pages or more.
You could write about how Nina is in her daily life, where does she live and how are the people around her. You can give more details about her, such as, she is a multi-media artist who works in an advertising agency. She lives a very quiet life in London city, just to highlight the contrast in her personality as regards to a busy capital city like London. Then you can write in detail about the conflict that brings about a change in her personality. You can ponder awhile to empathise how protagonist would be feeling or how she would be passing days in her life. Then we can dangle the ‘opportunity’ factor here which Nina could use to bring about a change in her life as well as resolve the conflict she is facing. At this point of time you can bring up some supporting characters that might come to help or have a connection with her conflict. You can also take some time to describe each of the supporting characters and write what relation they have with each other. Maybe there is a probability of a romance surfacing or you can add some pointers about who the antagonist might be. So once you have this content, make a rough outline of all the ideas, events and characters in a linear fashion. It should all be shaped in a logical sequence. This is what is called the backbone of the story.
Once you have a rough backbone of the story, write different scenes that work towards the resolution of the story goal. In each of the scenes, write a small summary of may be four or five lines. If you are out of ideas for a particular scene just keep it for now and move on to the next scene; you can come back to it later. After finishing a rough draft of all the scenes, you can develop each scene into a chapter of maybe of 2000 or 3000 words depending on the word count of the book.
You can also plan the number of chapters beforehand and divide these chapters into three parts –
also known as the three-act structure. The three-act structure is a popular model, used by many authors to write their plays, novels, poetry, comic books, short stories etc. In this structure what you do is plan the number of chapters for your entire novel – say thirty chapters. The first part or Act 1, also known as the beginning, consists of ten chapters. The beginning explains the setup of the novel such as introduces the protagonist, the conflict, the circumstances that come about due to the conflict, the opportunity for change, the objectives and action plan the protagonist takes to resolve the conflict. You also write about the settings here and introduce the supporting actors.
The middle portion of the three-act structure is where the confrontation takes place. It consists of the changes that take place in the protagonist’s life due to his or her decisions, other subplots of the supporting characters, enemies gained, the experiences and lessons learnt that further strengthen the story goal. Some fun incidents in the protagonist’s life can also be added here such as celebrations, reunions and romances. You can also introduce the antagonists here or they may be already introduced but here is where their shady traits are revealed. In relation to the antagonists, you can show how they weaken or strengthen the protagonist in achieving his or her goal.
The third act or last ten chapters, is where the resolution takes place. Pressure mounts as the protagonists faces obstacles after obstacles. Encounters are shown where the protagonist faces relentless defeat and despair as nothing seems to be right here. Other discouraging situations come up, and maybe some secrets are revealed too. There may also be some sacrifices involved or maybe death of one or two characters. Tension reaches its peak here till crisis reaches final climax and then resolution occurs.
As you keep moving onto the next chapter you have to make it a point to revise the previous chapter so that it is not too messy later on. Once you complete the whole draft, you go back to the beginning for another round of re-edit.
For e.g., here in my story, let’s suppose Nina finds out that her sister was jilted by her boyfriend before her death. Maya’s boyfriend was none other than London’s famous billionaire, Ricky Peters. Although an initial suspect, the police set Ricky free after not being able to find any substantial evidence against him. So here we have the conflict of Nina trying to find out more about her sister’s death. In her quest to find out more, she accidently meets Alex Peters, the brother of the
billionaire. Luckily for Nina, Alex comes as a perfect opportunity for her to resolve her conflict. Alex is a new client in her agency and Nina successfully manipulates her boss to assign her Alex’s project.
Hence this is one of the action plans she takes to resolve the conflict. She also learns that the brothers belong to a dynasty of rich tycoons and prior to Maya’s death, their whole family was vehemently against her marriage to Ricky. As the story progresses, Nina studies Alex closely and tries to find out more background information about him and his family. She changes her mode of dressing and style just to make Alex fall in love with her. In Act two, Nina will achieve her goal as Alex proposes to her. But again there is a dent to her plans as she finds herself falling in love with Alex too. There are circumstances where she meets other characters such as Alex’s family who all seem to be very nice. There will be other supporting characters here, like for example, her best friend Tasha. But again there is Ricky’s friend circle who behaves suspiciously towards her. One of them may be introduced as the antagonist. Towards the third act there is a fight between Nina and Alex as he realises her true motives for falling in love with him.
Once you have all the scenes roughly drafted, it gets easier to develop it into full fledged chapters. Before you know it, you find your fingers are flying around with sentences, dialogues and events all falling easily like a heavy downpour. In no time, your first draft is ready and from then on you keep going back to remove unnecessary paragraphs, bad sentences or add some new ones. Henceforth, you go on polishing your manuscript with as many re-edits required, till you feel completely satisfied with the final manuscript.
Now that your novel is complete, you can sit back and revel this moment for a while. Hey! You are the author of this huge manuscript which everyone calls a novel. Your novel! Time for celebrations and new hope as you gather information about various literary agents across the country or seek to pursue alternative methods of publishing.
The first thing that you need to figure out while writing your story is what kind of story you are going to write about; or to be more specific what genre will it belong to. Will the story be focused on romance or will it be a sci-fi fiction or should you opt to write a dystopian fiction?
The best way to decide this is to check your book shelf and see what kind of novels are you inclined to read more. What do you love reading the most? The genre that you usually read more is the one you are pretty familiar with. Hence the best option is to focus on the genre that you love reading as then you will have enough content and ideas for a beginner, and this will also help you tune in easily into the writing process.
For example, if you are a fantasy freak, but you decide to write a mystery novel. Then in that case, the learning curve for crafting out a mystery novel for you would be pretty steep as it will not be your familiar territory. You have start with reading more and more crime novels, get familiar with the crime terminology and invest a lot of time to getting acquainted with that particular genre. You will need to spend a lot of time in researching how detectives work, what techniques they use to solve crimes, what challenges they go through, how the author keeps the suspense element strong all through out a crime novel and so on.
But in case of a fantasy novel, which you have been reading for years, a lot of the elements would have already been embedded in your subconscious. For eg, you would be already familiar with the different kinds of world building used in fantasy novels. Some which are based on legends across the world; some from real history such as that of medieval Europe, Renaissance era or Native American folklore and some may be a world totally invented from the author’s imagination. Then you would have observed the different kind of supernatural rules that operate in the fantasy world, which an author uses consistently throughout the book, almost similar to a formula. You would have also been acquainted with different styles of magic used; the tone of the characters – meaning the language they use and so on. So finally all you have to do is sit quietly, reflect, maybe meditate and you will find random ideas dangling in your mind’s cosmos. As you quickly jot down points, you find these ideas take shape into a rough outline. Hence the best practice would be to focus on a genre you are pretty acquainted with so that you can easily imbibe the elements of that genre such as the settings, the plot, the theme, the style, the characterisation, the point of view and the tone into your novel.
I for one, write a lot about fantasy since I love reading about other worlds different from ours; I love the supernatural elements in a novel, the unknown, the suspense and the magic! I also love to read stories with young people in them, love their young vibrant energy, their unjaded optimism, their dreams and their challenges of growing up. Some of my favourites are: The Hunger Games, Princess Diaries, Harry Potter, Divergent and Twilight.
Once you have decided to focus on a particular genre, you have to find an idea for your story. Many people have different ways of picking story ideas. For some there are so many that it gets difficult to choose that one particular idea that they would like to hone into their novel. And even after doing so, they are haunted by the rest of the ideas they didn’t pick up – literally so.
For the rest of us who are not yet inspired we have to go browsing for one; browse the unlimited free shop – our universe I mean. For that maybe you may have go out for a walk in the woods or the park or a beautiful natural area with a lot of trees and scenic beauty around. Listening to music, going for movies, taking a bath, spending time with children or simply day dreaming – are some other ways to be inspired. You can also draw out your own experiences in life or some special moments in your life or maybe folk tales handed down by your grandparents and so on. So basically you have to keep your mind prepared to absorb signs from the universe or let your subconscious know that you are ready to receive ideas. So keep your mind alert and keep a dream journal as some ideas may even come to you through your dreams! Your ideas may come to you as an image in your mind’s eye. Sometimes some particular setting in a restaurant or a classroom may set off an image. At other times a scene in a movie might trigger out that winning idea.
Another way to get your ideas is through research. For eg, if you are writing about fantasy, you can research a lot about mythology of different cultures or the esoteric beings in the other world like the elementals, fairies and the devas. You can also research about different forms of folk or ceremonial magic used across cultures such as Wiccans, North American Indians, Africans, Chinese etc. If you are writing about crime novels then your research will involve reading crime novels, learning about criminal terminology, watching crime documentaries, get acquainted with police officers if possible to observe how they work, checking up websites to learn about investigation procedures, DNA analysis, forensic anthropology, pathology, forensic criminology, fingerprinting and so on.
For my middle grade series, Magical Ventures of Loli and Lenny, Loli came to me as an image of a girl on a swing going up and down. Then I saw a squirrel passing by her swing in my mind’s eye which may also be inspired by the squirrels in my backyard. I also could see a pendulum moving back and forth for no particular reason. So this was one of the introducing scenes of the books. For my novelette, Redemption, the images poured to me while taking a walk and listening to music. To sum it all up, each has his own method to pick up ideas or be inspired and hence we too should find our own magic trick too.
The best approach to develop interesting characters for your novel is by observing people in your own life; meaning your family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances. Readers will be able to relate more to those characters as they will sound and feel more realistic. So for a while, keep a keen eye on the people around you. Observe their style of talking, their facial expressions, frequent mannerisms, their special qualities or weaknesses. This will help to add more depth to your character as you go on developing it – in the sense make it more believable and relatable.
Once you have a vague image of your character, go on adding more details to it in your mind’s eye and write it down as it comes to you. For the purpose of this article, let’s suppose your character is a female. Below in this article I have compiled eleven factors that you can keep in mind while developing and writing about your character:
1. Name: You need to give her a name, so that it makes you feel as if you are thinking of a real person. While choosing a name you can also use one that reflects some quality of your protagonist. For example, she maybe named Dawn because of the kind of innocence she radiates that is relatable to the freshness of dawn. Or you can name her Grace, because of a graceful, ladylike quality about her that you want the readers to feel. But then, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. It entirely depends upon your own unique style of showcasing your character.
2. Age: The readers need to know the age of the character to build a clear and defined image in their minds. Is she a teenager or someone in her late twenties? Usually, the age would be mostly dependent on the storyline and the genre. If for e.g., it is a middle grade book then the character’s age would be somewhere around nine to twelve years old, whereas for a young adult book, the character should be around fifteen to eighteen years old. The age also determines the tone used by the characters, whether it is a mature voice or a chirpy, young voice.
3. Occupation: Once you have determined her age, you can write about what she does. Is she is a student, or a career woman, or simply someone with a daytime job to support her family? The protagonist’s personality will be largely determined by this because, supposing you are talking about a high school student here, then you are portraying a typically young person. Hence her tone of voice, like most teenagers, will be often headstrong and opinionated or maybe light and carefree. Again like most teenagers, she maybe very impulsive or spontaneous in her actions. Then again your character maybe a research scholar and carry an intelligent look about her, and also is quite serious about her outlook in life. Another example we can cite is that of a waitress who has a gregarious personality as per the demands of her job. On the contrary she might have a dual personality where she is very cheerful and outgoing at her work place but reserved and quiet when she is at home or with her close circle of friends.
4. Physical descriptions: It’s time to describe her physically now and the possibilities are limitless here. She maybe very pretty, or on the contrary, be very average looking but with a charming smile or a cute nose. Or she may have captivating eyes on a handsome face, complemented by a luxurious, shiny mane of hair. There are no boundaries here and you can portray her as you would like your readers to glimpse a vision that is close to yours.
5. Character traits: Once the sex, age, occupation and physical descriptions are done, you need to write about her character traits. Describe how she really is as a person with her peers, friends or family and how she is when she is alone. How does it affect her relationships in turn? One thing you have to keep in mind while developing your protagonist is that besides her heroic qualities, she will sound more real if you also add some flaws to her character. This will help add more depth and dimension to her personality. In the real world nobody is perfect, so showing some of her weaknesses makes her sound more credible. She may be reserved, but at the same time very easy-going and helpful. Or she maybe cheerful, bubbly and talkative but at the same time also sensitive and gullible.
Strive to make her sound more like a round character instead of flat. For example, she maybe a very friendly girl as well as straightforward and helpful but her straightforward nature makes her too frank for some people’s liking. As a result, she has many enemies too. Or, she maybe very independent and individualistic but she also is very stubborn which leads to many tensions in her relationships with her friends. Then again, she may have a calm and peaceful disposition but this is the very reason that makes her a soft prey to nasty and loud people around her. Balancing the heroic qualities of your protagonists with one or a few flaws can help the readers look up to the protagonists as well as relate to a piece of their own weakness too. Similarly, when you write about the antagonists, you can highlight a good quality to their otherwise villainous nature. For e.g., supposing your antagonist is a male who is aggressive, opportunistic, self-centred and deceitful. Then you can throw in a virtue here amongst his basket of vices, such as, he is very loyal where his family is concerned and can do anything for them.
6. Settings: You can relate her moods and emotions to the settings of the novel so that it gives the readers more insight to her character. For e.g., she lives in the country but she longs for the hustle and bustle of city life. Hence that makes her grumpy and emotionally needy. Or, she may be relocated to the city but she longs to be in the countryside; hence that makes her restless as well as a loner. That would explain her emotional state in the novel and naturally help to pave the way to write about the character’s motivations.
7. Situations: The situations in her life will be another factor to show how the character handles her emotions, trauma, setbacks or happy events in her life. Maybe she lost someone close to her; hence she is devastated and withdrawn. Or, maybe she has been accepted by the college of her dreams, hence she is very excited and optimistic about her future. The situations in her life add a better perspective to the character’s traits and helps the reader to imagine the character better.
8. Past: The past of a person largely determines why the protagonist is the way he or she is. You can talk about the influences or kind of upbringing the protagonist had in shaping her character. For e.g., the character might have had a submissive mother and a controlling father. So she decided very early in her life that she would always stand up for herself, come what may. Hence she is very assertive in her dealings which may sometimes border around aggression. Or the character’s role model was her mother who was very ambitious, so she too grew up to be ruthlessly ambitious and goal-driven. Or maybe the character was always compared to her better performing siblings; hence there is a kind of insecurity in her which she tries to hide with subtle sarcasm.
9. Objective: The objective of the character show what she strives to be at the beginning of the novel. Maybe she wants to be very rich since she grew up in scarcity and deprived economic conditions. Hence the character is goal-oriented as well as extremely persevering. Or the character grew up in a very ambitious family where parents never had any time for each other. Hence the character is very laidback and wants to enjoy life. Or, maybe she simply follows her passions and creativity and doesn’t bother too much about money. Instead she strives for a sense of personal achievement and contentment.
10. Motivation: The motivation of the character strongly determines the nature of the character which in turn is a major factor in driving the plot. Maybe the protagonist is a quiet and mellowed kind of person who mostly minds her own business. But the murder of her mother changes her and so she is motivated by powerful emotions such as anger, resentment and a strong sense of vengeance. The novel then becomes a story of vengeance or crime as determined by the motivation of the main character. Or maybe the protagonist wants to win a beauty pageant but she isn’t motivated enough as she is instilled with qualities of humility and modesty by her parents. But an inciting incident like being ridiculed as a doormat by the popular girls in her school motivates her to prove herself. Hence the novel is more of a chick lit which features peer rivalries, popularity contests, romances and friendships between the characters. Or, again for instance the character may not be ambitious enough. But the tragedy of losing her father at not being able to avail funds for medical aid, propels her to be ruthlessly ambitious and money-minded. So the storyline is basically about the character’s hunger for power and money.
Motivation, therefore, is the major factor that determines a character’s development. In the course of the novel, the characters goes through various changes as they try to achieve their goals in face of their challenges. For example, a very shy woman maybe motivated to change into an extrovert or a conservatively dressed female may turn to be a bold and flashy dresser just to achieve the goals in her life.
11. Show and not tell: Lastly, keep in mind that when writing about your character, you have to show her personality through the dialogues she has with the supporting characters instead of making readers follow long descriptions. This is a far creative way to show your characters and their traits. Maybe your protagonist is rebellious and therefore, whilst an argument with her mother, you can show her rebellious side. Or she is an earthy and sensible kind of teenager and to show this side of her character you can throw in a scene of her with her girl friends. In this scenario her girlfriends maybe mostly talking about fashion, parties and boys while she appears bored and her mind wanders elsewhere.
So keeping these points in mind, you go on developing your characters and make them grow as the situations keep changing in your novel. As the characters evolve, the readers too will feel they are reading about people in the real world. The protagonists’ journey also becomes the reader’s journey as they go through the same emotional highs and lows, and reader ends up wanting to know more.